Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Memoria Press History Study - The Wars of the Jews by Josephus (A Homeschool Coffee Break Review)

Even though our homeschool year is pretty much complete, my personal interest in history continues, so I have been doing a little personal study in order to review The Wars of the Jews set from Memoria Press.

When it comes to classical education at home, Memoria Press is an important name to know. They provide comprehensive classical Christian curriculum, including Latin, logic, classical history, and literature. It's a family-run publishing company with a commitment to the liberal arts and great works of Western civilization. Much of their classical education curriculum was originally developed for their K-12 Highlands Latin School.

We received The Wars of the Jews set for this review. The set includes the book The Wars of the Jews, a 26-page Student Guide, and the accompanying 35-page Teacher Guide. The book is the William Whiston translation of the account of the first century historian Josephus. Josephus was a Jew turned Roman citizen, and is considered the most trustworthy account of the siege and fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and other events of the time period. The fall of Jerusalem was prophesied by Jesus, so this account of its fulfillment is an important piece of history. The book and study set is an excellent follow-up to a study of Scripture and also a starting point for a study of Christian history.

How did we use it?  This is what I consider a history unit study, and a good in-depth look at a period of history that often is skimmed over, because it takes place after the time of the gospels and early church history given in the New Testament and is only a part of the overall story of the Roman world. The Wars of the Jews contains Book V and Book VI of Flavius Josephus's Books of the History of the Jewish War Against the Romans, which was written very soon after the events describes. This book is a translation by William Whiston and the text is accompanied by occasional maps, photos, and drawings. I read the book myself and used the Student and Teacher Guides to help me better understand. 

It took some adjusting to the reading style, as it's quite different from modern textbooks! Students who have been studying the classics will likely have no problem, but those who have been used to using a modern textbook or have reading struggles may face a challenge with the unfamiliar vocabulary and style. For example, this excerpt from Chapter 2 (about halfway through the book):
8.  Now, after one day had been interposed since the Romans ascended the breach, many of the seditious were so pressed by the famine, upon the present failure of their ravages, that they got together and made an attack on those Roman guards that were upon the Mount of Olives. This was about the eleventh hour of the day, as supposing, first, that they would not expect such an onset, and, in the next place, that they were then taking care of their bodies, and that therefore they should easily beat them. But the Romans were apprized of their coming to attack them beforehand, and, running together from the neighboring camps on the sudden, prevented them from getting over their fortifications or forcing the wall that was built about them.
So you can see that although it's not a particularly difficult reading level, it is just different in style than what most of us are used to. 

I enjoyed reading the contemporary account of the various battles and events, but I did have to concentrate and often re-read a passage to really 'get' it. For me, having the Student and Teacher Guides open to refer to as I read helped a lot, and both would be essential for a student to get the most out of this as a history study.

The Student's Guide is a workbook of comprehension questions to go with each chapter of the book. At the beginning of each chapter is a section of Facts to Know and vocabulary. The first section gives some background on Josephus himself and some of the other major players in Jerusalem and in the Roman army. The comprehension questions helped me think through what I'd read and put it in my own words. At the end of the Student Guide, there is a Josephus Review, three pages long, that goes over vocabulary, important people and places, quotes, and a map of Jerusalem. There are a few comprehension questions here as well.  

Facts to Know, from the Student Guide

Josephus Review from the Student Guide

Map from the Josephus Review pages in the Student Guide

By the time a student has read the whole book and worked through the entire Student Guide, he or she will be well-prepared to write the test, which is found in the Teacher Guide. The Teacher Guide has the exact same layout and text as the Student Guide, but of course it includes all the answers to the questions. Since I was reading on my own, I especially appreciated that the Teacher Guide included all the questions, so I didn't have to look back and forth between three books. 

Answers to the comprehension questions, given in the Teacher Guide
The Josephus Test, and the answer key for the test, are in the back of the Teacher Guide. The test has very similar questions to the Josephus Review, but requires the student to recall the information from their memory. So instead of offering a word bank for the vocabulary section, a definition is given and the student must supply the word on their own. The test also asks the student to identify certain places on a map of Jerusalem, and offers a couple of Extra Credit questions. 

Josephus Test found in the Teacher Guide

I found it odd that the Answer Key for the Josephus test begins on the back of the final page of the test. Another unusual thing is that the test pages are not perforated, so I suppose the student is expected to take the test IN the Teacher Guide, or the pages must be torn out. The copyright notice states that no part of the book can be photocopied, so not only would one need a Student Guide for each student, but a Teacher Guide for each student that was to take the test. I was very surprised that the blank test did not appear in the Student Guide. 

I did not contact Memoria Press to ask whether this odd situation with the test and answer key was intentional, but I would suggest that in future print runs, the blank test should be in the Student Guide instead of the Teacher Guide.

Is it worth high school credit? Memoria Press includes this history study in its eleventh grade curriculum package, but recommends it as suitable for Grade Nine and up. So it is definitely high school level material, but not a full credit on its own. As a history study it stands on its own as a unit, but would need to be combined with at least a couple of the others in the series in order to be a full high school credit. 

What we liked best:
  • I love this approach of reading the history from the account of one who was actually there when it happened. The reading level is challenging at places, but the translation is clear and within the ability level of most high school students, especially if they are used to reading classics.
  • the maps, photos, and drawings that are occasionally interspersed in the text are black and white, but are helpful in understanding without distracting from the written word.
  • I really appreciated that the Teacher Guide included the full text of the questions given in the Student Guide. It made it easy to use in my situation - as a teacher reading and studying on my own - and would also make it easy for a parent to use when going over the material with a student. 
What I need to mention:
  • There are no frills here - no lesson plan or instructions included. It is straightforward though - just read the book and answer the questions in the Student Guide. But if you happen to be someone who likes the daily lesson plan completely laid out so you know exactly how much to do on a given day, you'll need to know that's not in this particular Teacher Guide.
  • As I mentioned above, the final test is only found in the Teacher Guide, and it's not practical to just pull it out since the pages are not perforated, and the first page of the Answer Key is on the back of the final page of the test.
Our bottom line: I enjoyed getting a first-hand account of the siege of Jerusalem and having the background and questions in the Student and Teacher Guides to help me. I rather wish I'd had The Wars of the Jews set to use when we worked on world history as I think it would have provided a better understanding of the events and the significance to the Jewish people as it was a fulfillment of prophecy. For homeschoolers following a classical education plan, I believe this would be an essential part of a well-rounded study of history, building a bridge from ancient and Bible history to church and western civilization history.

Would you like to study history with Memoria Press? Here's what you need to know:

Visit the website:

Pricing: The Wars of the Jews set is available for $34.90, or the components may be purchased separately if desired.

Age recommendations: Grade 9 and up

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Read our previous Memoria Press reviews: Nature's Beautiful Order from Memoria Press and Latina Christiana from Memoria Press.

Nature's Beautiful Order from Memoria Press (A Homeschool Coffee Break Review) @ Latina Christiana from Memoria Press - A Schoolhouse Crew Review on Homeschool Coffee Break @

Visit the Homeschool Review Crew blog for more information and to read other reviews. Crew members also reviewed Writing, Spelling, and History resources so be sure to check out all the reviews!

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